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[From the Scene] Yoon tests Global Pivotal State vision at first Korea-Africa summit

Summit seen as milestone for South Korea's value-based diplomacy, affirms its position as economic, IT powerhouse: experts

June 4, 2024 - 18:34 By Ji Da-gyum
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (right in first row) delivers an opening address during the Korea-Africa summit held at KINTEX in Ilsan, north of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

GOYANG, Gyeonggi Province — South Korea held the inaugural Korea-Africa Summit on Tuesday to forge new strategic cooperation with African countries which serve as a cornerstone of the Global South, putting the Yoon Suk Yeol administration's key agenda to become a "global pivotal state" to test.

The Korea-Africa summit is seen as a crucial assessment for the Yoon government in realizing the core national security and foreign policy vision of becoming a "global pivotal state contributing to freedom, peace, and prosperity in the world" as stipulated in its National Security Strategy.

Top officials from 48 African nations undertook a lengthy trip covering around 10,000 kilometers by air, then traveled from Seoul to the KINTEX Convention Center in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, by road and finally walked down the red carpet to attend the Korea-Africa summit on Tuesday.

The 200-seat press center was also bustling with reporters from African countries, all in a fervor to cover the summit. The Korean government estimated that around 100 reporters had gathered at the convention center, where the vibrant flags of South Korea and African countries fluttered proudly outside, symbolizing a historic convergence.

"The fact that a large number of African heads of state and delegates journeyed to Korea from so far away shows their expectations and trust in their partnership with the Republic of Korea," said Yoon during a news conference held following the summit with delegates from 48 African countries -- the largest multilateral meeting under his government.

"Since my first year in office, I have stressed the significance of working together with Africa under the vision to become a global pivotal state."

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (at the podium) gives a luncheon speech at the 2024 Korea-Africa Summit on Tuesday, in this photo provided by the presidential office. (Yonhap)

The presidential office noted that all UN member countries from the African continent, except for the six countries currently suspended from the African Union — Gabon, Niger, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Mali — participated in the first-ever Korea-Africa summit.

State leaders or leader-level officials such as prime ministers or vice presidents from 33 countries flew to South Korea for the summit.

"We can clearly see that our country has taken a significant first step in showcasing its true potential as a global pivotal state," Park Jong-dae, a former South Korean ambassador to South Africa and Uganda, told The Korea Herald, acknowledging the high-rate participation from African countries in the summit.

"This important milestone allows us to affirm our position as a global pivotal state to some extent. It's a result of South Korea's attractiveness, economic power, technological prowess and cultural-emotional resonance all coming together," Park added.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol poses with African leaders at the 2024 Korea-Africa Summit on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

In the Joint Declaration of the 2024 Korea-Africa Summit, both sides "determine to build a future together based on a strong and mutually beneficial partnership structured around three pillars: Shared Growth, Sustainability, and Solidarity."

The partnership is based on the notion of the "commonalities and complementarity between Korea's vision of serving as a 'Global Pivotal State' and Africa's vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, as encapsulated in the African Union’s 'Agenda 2063,'" according to the joint statement.

Both sides noted the alignment is imperative given the growing importance of deepening international cooperation and solidarity amid rapid changes in the international arena and the emergence of complex challenges including climate change, conflicts, food insecurity, health crises, energy crises and supply chain disruptions.

South Korea also seeks to garner support from African countries on the global stage including within the UN and G20 frameworks, leveraging the momentum generated by the Korea-Africa summit.

Africa notably comprises 54 countries, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the United Nations member states, which total 193.

"Korea expresses its willingness to continue to strive to cooperate closely with African countries, particularly with the A3, where appropriate, during its 2024-25 term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council," the joint declaration read, referring to Algeria, Sierra Leone, and Mozambique that currently hold non-permanent seats on the 15-member UN Security Council.

"Korea extends congratulations to the African countries on the African Union’s accession to the G20 and expresses its willingness to cooperate within the G20," it added.

The 2024 Korea-Africa Summit opens in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The Korea-Africa summit conspicuously coincided with South Korea's assumption of the rotational presidency at the UN Security Council in June.

"Together with Korea's third term as a non-permanent member in the UNSC, the government's foreign policy vision of the global pivotal state puts Korea on the world map beyond the Korean peninsula," Kim Su-weon, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of International and Area Studies of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, told The Korea Herald.

"The 2024 Korea-Africa Summit reflects such a commitment."

South Korea also used the summit as a platform to enhance collaboration between Korea and African countries in enforcing UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea and achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

The joint declaration also reaffirms their "commitment to the full implementation of all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, we highlight the importance of the efforts of the international community to achieve a complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

Park assessed that the "summit has successfully engaged the African leaders in terms of content and substance, rather than being merely ceremonial."

"We must pay meticulous attention to every detail until the end to ensure that this summit is a great success, paving the way for its regular future occurrence," Park stressed.